Low and middle-income countries will now be able to add malaria vaccines to their immunization programs as an additional tool to fight the disease.
This comes after Gavi, the vaccine alliance, agreed to finance the rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
Gavi’s board has announced it will invest $155.7 million between 2022 and 2025 to help countries finance procurement, technical assistance, and other costs associated with the rollout.
In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a historic recommendation for the broad use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in Sub-Saharan Africa and countries where the disease is prevalent.
Health experts have, however, stressed that RTS,S, which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is not a silver bullet, with Gavi, WHO, and others quickly emphasizing that it should be deployed alongside, not instead of, existing malaria prevention and treatment measures.
“This vaccine will help enormously in terms of reducing deaths. It is likely to have very little impact in terms of reducing transmission and will therefore not bring us rolling a lot closer to an elimination scenario,” said Dr Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme.
If properly deployed and targeted, the RTS,S vaccine could prevent “somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000” deaths, Dr Alonso added.
Further, new data from the WHO revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted malaria services, leading to a marked increase in cases and deaths.
WHO estimates that 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths were reported worldwide in 2020, representing about 14 million more cases compared to 2019.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry the heaviest malaria burden, accounting for about 95 percent of all malaria cases and 96 percent of all deaths in 2020.
About 80 percent of deaths in the region are among children under 5 years of age.
Since 2015, the baseline date for WHO’s global malaria strategy, 24 countries have registered increases in malaria deaths. In the 11 countries that carry the highest burden of malaria worldwide, cases increased from 150 million in 2015 to 163 million cases in 2020, and malaria deaths increased from 390,000 to 444,600 over that same period.
According to the report, 15 countries with a high burden of malaria reported reductions in malaria testing of more than 20 percent in April-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Of the world’s 11 highest-burden countries, only India registered progress in fighting the disease. The other 10 countries, all in Africa, reported increases in cases and deaths.
“While African countries rallied to the challenge and averted the worst predictions of fallout from COVID-19, the pandemic’s knock-on effect still translates to thousands of lives lost to malaria,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“African governments and their partners need to intensify their efforts so that we do not lose even more ground to this preventable disease.”
Meanwhile, Kenya has made strides in efforts to eliminate malaria by the year 2030 with a survey conducted by the Division of National Malaria Program showing a decline of malaria cases in children aged 6 months to 14 years by 2 percent since 2015.
The 2020 Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey (KMIS) survey released in October by the Division of National Malaria Program reported the prevalence of the disease among the targeted group at 6 percent compared to 8 percent in 2015.
Dr Mercy Mwangangi, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health, attributed the progress to sustained interventions by the ministry and its partners.
However, the survey reported a significantly higher burden of the disease at 19 percent in the Lake region counties of Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, and Busia.